The Sahel faces growing threats


Amid a proliferation of militant groups and “disquieting” levels of food insecurity the situation in the Sahel has become increasingly fragile a United Nations special envoy has told the Security Council.

“The security situation in the Sahel continues to be impacted by crises in Libya, northern Nigeria, northern Mali and the Central African Republic,” Special Envoy for the Sahel, Guebre Sellassie said in her end-of-year briefing to the 15-member body.

She last updated the Council in June providing a similarly bleak overview of the situation in the Sahel – a vast expanse of territory stretching from Mauritania to Eritrea, including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan. In her latest briefing the envoy explained the region was facing an added threat as reports have it that Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants had established a bulwark in the Libyan desert.
“Persistent allegations that the Islamic State has set up training camps in Libya are particularly worrisome. If the situation in Libya is not quickly brought under control, many states in the region could be destabilised in the near future.”

Coupled with the ISIL threat, Sellassie warned, was the deteriorating security situation in northern Mali where attacks targeting UN “blue helmets” and communities living along the border with Niger were steadily intensifying. This, she said, came despite progress achieved in the inter-Malian talks held in the Algerian capital of Algiers and an agreement by peacekeeping countries to strengthen regional security co-operation.

In addition, instability in Nigeria’s north also endangered the wider region as “unspeakable Boko Haram atrocities” continued to pose a threat to some Sahel communities and countries. As a result of the militant group’s continuing operations, an estimated 100,000 people had fled into Niger’s Diffa region, further exacerbating the Sahel’s humanitarian situation which remained “disquieting.”
“Five million more people have become food insecure since the last reporting period. The number of children affected by acute malnutrition in the Sahel also increased from five million in January to 6.4 million,” Sellassie said, noting spiralling insecurity and conflicts had already displaced some 3.3 million people, a two-fold increase from January.

Against that backdrop, she added, the overall $1.9 billion humanitarian appeal for the region continued to remain underfunded.

Nevertheless, the Special Envoy indicated “some progress” had been achieved, including a European Union-led partnership which was continuing to provide “a critical framework for regional cooperation on resilience”; a UN Development Programme (UNDP) initiative aimed at supporting Mali to mainstream social cohesion in its delivery of social services as well as help build the capacity of Government institutions in Mauritania and Niger on conflict prevention and the protection of human rights; and a UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) plan to support the development of accessible, efficient and accountable criminal justice systems across the Sahel – a region crisscrossed by drug trafficking and illicit trade.

Despite the “important and necessary steps” taken by the international community and regional partners in boosting the Sahel’s security and economic outlook, Sellassie cautioned that Member States could not afford to become distracted from the perilous situation on the ground.
“The Sahel region continues to face multi-faceted challenges to peace and development. Given the deterioration of the political and security situation in the region and the adverse impact on humanitarian and development gains, the need for sustaining Security Council attention on the Sahel is greater than ever,” she said.